Judge Orders FDA To Rethink Antibiotics In Animal Feeds

By Amir Khan on June 6, 2012 8:53 AM EDT

Chicken
A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to revisit its decision to allow antibiotics in animal feed (Photo: Creative Commons)

A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to revisit its decision to allow antibiotics in animal feed. The FDA has rejected several citizen petitions to restrict the use of antibiotics, but the judge said the organization has done "shockingly little" to evaluate the long-term risks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz in Manhattan said on Monday that the agency must evaluate the safety risks of the drugs and explain why they are or are not allowing it in animal feed -- something they have been reluctant to do.

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"By refusing to make findings as to the drugs' safety - or provide a statutorily based reason for refusing to make such findings - the agency avoided the Congressionally mandated scheme for addressing drugs not shown to be safe," Katz said, according to the Associated Press. "For over thirty years, the agency has been confronted with evidence of the human health risks associated with the widespread ... use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and, despite a statutory mandate to ensure the safety of animal drugs, the agency has done shockingly little to address these risks."

The FDA claimed that it addressed the threat from antibiotics by instituting a voluntary program that asks people in the industry to use the drugs "judiciously."

The FDA rejected two petitions, one in 1999 and another in 2005, requesting the organization begin proceedings to withdraw antibiotics from animal feed. The agency rejected the petitions on the grounds that holding public meetings to give citizens an opportunity to voice concern would consume excessive time and resources from the agency.

"Denying the petitions on the grounds that it would be too time consuming and resource-intensive to evaluate each individual drug's safety, and withdraw approval if a drug was not shown to be safe, is arbitrary and capricious," Katz said, according to Reuters.

The Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., an environmental and public health advocacy group, is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, and said antibiotic use in animal feed contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria. The group said the judge's ruling is a win for them and consumers.

"The court's order pushes the agency one step closer to meaningful action to curb the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in animal feed," Avinash Kar, one of the group's attorneys, told the Associated Press.

Margaret Mellon, senior scientist of Union of Concerned Scientists, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, echoed Kar's statement.

""This is a great victory for the public health," she told the AP. "The court has seen through the FDA's excuses and is ordering the agency to move expeditiously on critical issues that have dragged on for far too long."

The FDA denied comment, citing the on-going litigation.

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